Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Band Sucks and the Mix is Partly to Blame

Sound mix sucks
I was sitting with my singer at a local music venue on Saturday night. We had made loose plans to see a Smiths tribute band one month prior. The admission was $12, with 100% of the proceeds going to a fundraiser. I played the role of Morrissey three years ago at Trash Fest, so my interest was piqued as to what this band was going to do on stage, sound like, and look like. My singer was too. We were prompted to attend this event by a mutual friend who backed out without notice. This put us in a bit of a bad mood, since we both agreed to go despite the cold and snow. After a couple of drinks, we were no longer grouchy.

We managed to miss the first two opening bands, and had to sit through just one before the headline act. After politely listening to three songs from band number three, I turned to look at my singer. She knew what I was thinking, and verbalized it for me. "These guys suck." She went on to say that she used to like everything, but now that she's no longer 21, she is picky. As I'm not even close to 21, I can attest to that feeling. I'm very picky about my live music. Okay, just about everyone is picky about their musical tastes. But there is more to this post.

When to Blame the Mix Instead of the Band

It's hard to tell if you like a band when the mix is terrible. If you have never heard a band's music before, and you can't hear the vocals or the guitars or keys, how can you make a solid judgement call? This was part of the problem. It was a pro stage with a pro p.a. system, but a monkey must have been working the sound board. In defense of the sound board monkey, perhaps he had never heard the band play before, so he didn't know what to highlight. That excuse might work if it weren't for the fact that the vocals were mushy and soft. At the very least, you have to get the vocals clear in the mix. That's an easy one. The saddest part is that the band has no idea that they sound like utter crap in the venue.

My thoughts wander when a band is sucking badly on stage. I start to think about the working aspect of the performance, and I (sometimes thankfully) forget about the music coming from the speakers. I wonder if the singer knows that when he pulls his lips more than two inches from the microphone nobody can hear him. I wonder if the bass player knows that his vocal volume is turned down so low that when he speaks in between songs, nobody can understand a word that he is saying. They may have the best monitor mix in the world going on up there, but out here in the audience, it's just a pile of mush.

I can't help but see that the guitar player's amp cut out mid song. He gives a nervous look back towards his amp, and then looks over to his keyboard player who smiles. Was it a problem that they were having during sound check? Did he step on his own cord? Did he forget to put new batteries in his effects pedal, which now went dead? I can't help myself. I have played too many shows, and seen how the sausage is made. If I'm not loving the music, I'm seeing with different eyes.

When the headline act came on, my other eyes and ears took over. I loved it. I'm sure that the mix was a bit better for the headliner, but it didn't matter to me. I knew the songs, and loved singing along. In fact, I was up against the stage, so all I could hear was the monitor mix which then proved to me what I had feared. The opening act probably thought that they sounded like rock stars, judging by the clarity of the stage mix I was hearing.

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